Wednesday, February 4, 2009

January 29 - February 4: Otago and Southland

It is official.  I am in love with this country.  The past week we've been working our way down the east coast of the South Island where things have got progressively more remote, wild and beautiful.  There is so much to see and do here, we've realized we could come for another month sometime and do a totally different trip. 

From wine country we had a big driving day to get to the small coastal town of Oamaru, famous for the blue penguin colony that lives outside of town.  The blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world.  We watched them climb out of the water at dusk after a full day of catching food for their young.  A nearby yawning seal sent them fumbling back to the water to regroup which was comical.  These little guys are less than a foot tall.  Nearby there were also the rarest of penguins, the yellow-eyed penguin.  We watched some of those from afar as well.  Unfortunately taking photos of penguins is not recommended as they're afraid of humans, so no penguin photos.

Oamaru itself is an interesting little town, with a lot of intact 19th century buildings, a cool local jazz bar, and a great single malt whiskey brewery.

This is the beach in front of the great place we stayed at.
With all the sheep you would accept some great lamb.  We cooked some up and indeed it was some of the most tender we've had.
From there we drove by the bizarre Moeraki Boulders, five million year old, perfectly spherical boulders, now lying on a beautiful beach.
On our way down to the Otago Peninsular, we drove further inland to check out the Otago Central Railway, a defunct railway line which has been converted into a 150 km long hiking/biking trail, going by tiny mostly abandoned settlements.  We hiked one leg of it through, green hilly terrain and by a chilly yet refreshing river.
Allison's birthdays** fell over the time we were in the Otago Peninsula.  This is a spectacular area, famous for its accessible wildlife.  At the very tip of the peninsula is home to the only mainland royal albatross colony.  With a 10 foot wing span, these are the largest flying birds in the world.  Too fast for our camera though.  We walked a beautiful beach dotted with lazy sea lions (although surprisingly active if you get too close) and went for a hike from a huge chasm down to a bay over steep duney terrain.  The walk back up over the sand got us sweating.  It reminded me fondly of the the 'big' dune at the beach in Saudi that we used to roll down into the sea.  (For those that know what I'm talking about picture one 5 times bigger).
While exploring the Peninsula we stayed on a sheep farm a few kilometers away.  Billy Brown, the hospitable owner educated us on the dwindling sheep business (we just missed the semi-annual shearing).  We really enjoyed his woodstove and amazing record collection.  They inspired us to pick up a player when we get back.
Here's the field of sheep out our window.  No better way to wake up in the morning.
From there we head all the way south to the appropriately named region of Southland.  Specifically we spent a couple days in the remote and unpopulated Catlins.  Every turn off the road led to something spectacular.  
A New Zealand traffic jam.
Beautiful Nugget Point.  On both sides was a steep drop-off to rocks covered in frolicking seals.  There were hundreds of them, teaching there pups to swim in little tidepools, the males play fighting.
Matai Falls.
Another amazing campsite.
Cooking our favorite camping meal, veggie fajitas.
 A hike through rainforesty terrain, that reminded us of Corcovado in Costa Rica, minus the jaguars.
We stopped for lunch one day at Porpoise Bay and were treated to a full on dolphin show.  They were playing in the waves and doing full flips completely out of the water.  The photo doesn't do it justice.
At low-tide, at the very southern tip of New Zealand in Curio Bay, a 170 million year old petrified forest is revealed.  An ancient volcano turned all the trees in this area to stone and you can still see the logs and stumps.  To put that in perspective that is before there were any birds on the planets.  Way older than the dinasours. Allison wasn't impressed :)  Even without the historical significance it was a fun place to explore.
Another fun place to explore were the nearby Cathedral Caves, five massive caves extending 200 meters inland.   If you walk in deep enough, past where natural light arrives, you'll feel some slimy things crawling over your feet.  I felt like Indy.

** We realized on Feb 3rd, the day after her birthday, that it was Feb 2nd in the US and thus it was her actual birthday that day.  So she got two celebrations.  The benefits of living in the future...

1 comment:

  1. this trip is starting to make me really jealous. shouldn't you two be in cubicles or waiting in line to park at trader joe's?